Hopes for a revived nuclear-containment deal with Iran dimmed further on Thursday, as the board of the United Nations’ atomic-energy agency formally rebuked the Islamic Republic, ordering it to cooperate with the agency’s investigation into the country’s nuclear activities. The standoff over the investigation comes as Western tensions with Iran have heightened over the government’s brutal crackdown on protesters at home and its military assistance to Russia in Ukraine. Though President Biden began his first term with the Iran deal as a key foreign-policy goal, doubts are growing over whether the administration could now make an agreement to revive the 2015 deal even if Tehran pulled back its most recent demands over the accord.
Iran’s rapidly expanding nuclear program and restrictions on international monitoring are hurtling toward another dangerous crisis while raising doubts over the Islamic Republic’s claim its atomic work is peaceful, western diplomats said. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors formally censured Iran for a second time this year on Thursday in Vienna. Iran continues stonewalling an IAEA probe into uranium traces sampled at three undeclared sites while its stockpile of fuel — enriched just below weapons grade — rises to record highs.
A night of violence flared across at least two Iranian cities as anti-government protests challenging the regime on an unprecedented level entered their third month. At least five people were killed Wednesday in the southwestern Iranian city of Izeh, according to Valiollah Hayati, the deputy governor of the Khuzestan province. According to unconfirmed reports on state media, including Press TV, a 9- or 10-year-old boy was among those killed; his death has become the newest rallying cry for some protesters. State media and local officials, including Hayati, said the people were shot dead by two "terrorists" riding motorcycles.
UANI IN THE NEWS
The US has blacklisted an international network of 13 companies it says facilitated sales worth hundreds of millions of dollars of Iranian crude and refined products to buyers in East Asia. This is the fifth round of sanctions levied on Iran’s illicit petroleum and petrochemical trade in as many months, demonstrating Washington’s resolve on the matter. “The designations we have seen over the past few months have targeted companies and individuals located in China, Hong Kong, the United Arab Emirates, Switzerland, Ukraine, Lebanon and more,” said Claire Jungman, chief of staff at United Against Nuclear Iran. “It is clear Iran’s reach is not constrained. It will do whatever it can to sell its oil and petrochemical products. Stronger due diligence is needed from the entire maritime industry.” The US Office of Foreign Asset control said the network facilitated sales on behalf of sanctioned Iranian petrochemical brokers Persian Gulf Petrochemical Industry Commercial and Triliance Petrochemical, as well as the National Iranian Oil Company and its marketing arm, Naftiran Intertrade Company.
NUCLEAR DEAL & NUCLEAR PROGRAM
The United Nations atomic watchdog's 35-nation Board of Governors passed a resolution ordering Iran to cooperate urgently with the agency's investigation into uranium traces found at three undeclared sites, diplomats at Thursday's closed-door vote said. The resolution drafted by the United States, Britain, France and Germany says "it is essential and urgent" that Iran explain the origin of the uranium particles and more generally give the International Atomic Energy Agency all the answers it requires. While it was not the first resolution the board has passed against Iran on the issue - another was adopted in June - its wording was stronger and hinted at a future diplomatic escalation.
The French leadership is finding it harder and harder to separate the talks on a new nuclear deal with Iran from Iranian human rights violations. The French press reported yesterday and today on Iranian courts condemning protesters to capital punishment. Until a few weeks ago, the Elysée Palace was determined to keep the nuclear and the human rights issues apart, but this week, President Emmanuel Macron admitted it was no longer possible.
SANCTIONS, BUSINESS RISKS, & OTHER ECONOMIC NEWS
The United States on Thursday imposed sanctions on over a dozen companies based in China, Hong Kong and the United Arab Emirates that Washington accused of facilitating the sale of Iranian petrochemicals and petroleum products to buyers in East Asia. The latest U.S. move against Iranian oil smuggling comes as efforts to revive Iran's 2015 nuclear deal have stalled and ties between the Islamic Republic and the West are increasingly strained as Iranians keep up anti-government protests. Washington has increasingly targeted Chinese companies over the export of Iran's petrochemicals as the prospects of reviving the nuclear pact have dimmed.
The United States is skeptical of reports suggesting Iran had developed a hypersonic missile, a Pentagon spokesperson said on Thursday. The semi-official Tasnim news agency last week quoted the Revolutionary Guards' aerospace commander as saying Iran had built a hypersonic ballistic missile. "We've seen the reports asserted and coming out of Iran, we remain skeptical of these reports," Sabrina Singh told a news conference. Hypersonic missiles can fly at least five times faster than the speed of sound and on a complex trajectory, making them difficult to intercept.
PROTESTS & HUMAN RIGHTS
Iran’s judiciary issued three more death sentences to people who were involved in anti-government protests following the death of a woman who allegedly broke the country’s strict headscarf rules, the judiciary’s website Mizan Online reported. This comes after Iran’s Revolutionary Court issued its first death sentence on Sunday due to involvement in anti-regime protests. The unnamed prisoner was handed the charge after being accused of setting fire to a government building, disturbing public order, committing a crime against national security, and for being “an enemy of God and corruption on Earth.”
In September, a 22-year-old woman named Mahsa Amini died three days after being taken into custody by Iran’s morality police. Since Amini’s death, protesters have taken to the streets to demand a change in Iran’s leadership and an end to gender discrimination and state impunity for weeks. Now, Iranian authorities are cracking down on those taking part in the protests, leading to violence and the deaths of protesters. But a false claim that Iran plans to execute 15,000 protesters went viral on social media this week. The message took hold when various tweets and infographics began circulating, including one image which read, “Iran sentences 15,000 protestors to death as a ‘hard lesson’ for all rebels.”
Anti-government protests shook authoritarian Iran following the killing of a young woman named Mahsa Amini in Tehran on Sept. 16 and have spread to at least 80 cities around the country. Amini had been arrested by the country's morality police for improperly wearing her hijab, and died suspiciously in custody. The murder was part of a broader effort by the hardline government of President Ebrahim Raissi to tighten social restrictions and roll back some of the freedom enjoyed by women under his predecessor, the comparatively moderate Hassan Rouhani.
U.S.-IRAN RELATIONS & NEGOTIATIONS
The Biden administration “will not let freedom be denied in Iran,” a senior House Democrat assured an Iranian diaspora organization at the Capitol on Thursday. “It is not a partisan issue. We demand democracy. We stand as Democrats, we stand with the president of the United States — Joe Biden is not going to let freedom be denied in Iran,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) told the Organization of Iranian American Communities. “We are fighting together, we are fighting together, and we seek the freedom of all those in Iran.”
A pair of veteran Republican congressmen demanded the Department of Defense (DOD) and State Department respond to recent Iranian attacks on U.S. interests in Iraq. GOP Reps. Guy Reschenthaler of Pennsylvania and Michael Waltz of Florida sent a letter to Biden administration secretaries Lloyd Austin and Antony Blinken calling on them to respond after Iran attacked American interests in Iraq. Iran fired ballistic missiles and sent armed drones into the Kurdistan region of Iraq Monday, targeting civilian dissidents against the Iranian regime over unrest at home in the Islamic nation.
MILITARY/INTELLIGENCE MATTERS & PROXY WARS
Israel and the United States blamed Iran Wednesday after what they said was a drone strike against a tanker operated by an Israeli-owned firm carrying gas oil off the coast of Oman. The Pacific Zircon was “hit by a projectile approximately 150 miles off the coast of Oman” on Tuesday, Singapore-based firm Eastern Pacific Shipping which operates the vessel said in a statement, adding that there were no reports of casualties or any leakage of the cargo. “There is some minor damage to the vessel’s hull but no spillage of cargo or water ingress,” said the company which is owned by Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer — one of two sons of shipping magnate Sammy Ofer, who died in 2011.
The US government has ordered a probe after Western, Japanese, and Israeli components were found in downed Iranian drones in Ukraine, The Wall Street Journal reported. Citing intelligence documents, the outlet estimated that three-quarters of the components were found to be American-made, despite Tehran being subjected to harsh sanctions. The aim of the sanctions is largely to prevent the country from developing nuclear weapons but includes other arms development such as drones. Ukrainian investigators also found Japanese components in Iranian Mohajer-6 drones captured intact after being hacked mid-flight.
RUSSIA, SYRIA, ISRAEL, HEZBOLLAH, LEBANON & IRAN
Iran on Thursday accused its-arch enemy Israel and Western intelligence services of plotting to start a civil war in the Islamic Republic, now gripped by some of the biggest anti-government protests since the 1979 revolution. "Various security services, Israel and some Western politicians who have made plans for civil war, destruction and the disintegration of Iran should know that Iran is not Libya or Sudan," Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian tweeted. Tehran accuses Western adversaries of stoking nationwide unrest, which has been joined by Iranians from all walks of life since the Sept. 16 death of young Iranian Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini.
Israel and the United States are developing “joint military capabilities at accelerated pace" to counter evolving threats in the Middle East, and especially against Iran, Israel’s army chief of staff Aviv Kohavi said on Wednesday. Kohavi made the remarks during his meeting with Commander of the US Central Command (CENTCOM) General Michael Kurilla, who arrived in Israel on Tuesday in the fourth official visit since he assumed his post in April. “We are operating together on all fronts to gather intelligence, neutralize threats, and prepare for various scenarios in either one or multiple arenas.”
Iranian government-affiliated hackers infiltrated the systems of the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board earlier this year, according to people familiar with the incident. The people, like others interviewed for this story, spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the matter’s sensitivity. The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) issued an alert Wednesday detailing how the hackers compromised an unnamed federal government network. CISA and the FBI determined that the attackers were Iranian government-sponsored and installed cryptocurrency-mining software, as well as tools to burrow within the agency’s systems.
Google has removed five apps controlled by the Iranian government from its Google Play service. Iranian technology news website Digiato said on Thursday that the smart transportation apps Snap and TAPSI, and native messenger platforms Soroush, Bale and iGap, had been removed because of the US sanctions on Iran. “Three native messengers and two smart transportation applications were removed from Google Play,” it said. “Digiato’s initial investigations show that not only the applications themselves have been removed from Google Play, but also that the accounts belonging to these companies have been delisted from the platform.